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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Northern Hospital Trains

By Alfred Jay Bollet, M.D.

Before the war, no thought had been given to using trains as ambulances. However, during the war, both sides relied on the recently developed railroad system to move men and material, including their sick and wounded soldiers, whenever possible.

Later in the war, hospital cars were specifically designed for use in ambulance trains. The Sanitary Commission's official history describes these improvements:

"A very slight description of these hospital cards will give some idea of the increased comfort provided for the patients conveyed in them. The ordinary field and hospital litter or stretcher was used in loading, unloading, and carrying the patients. These simple litter-beds, with pillows, mattresses, and comforts attached, were then ingeniously and securely swung, in tiers three high, and end to end upon light stanchions, and there suspended by stout tugs of India rubber, which gave sufficient elasticity to obviate all jar to the bed and its patient.

"Thirty of these beds were thus swung along the side of each Hospital car. A number of invalid chairs and a broad couch filled the remainder of the available space. A pantry furnished with medicines, utensils, beverages, and substantial food, ready for serving to the patients hot or cold, made up the sum of creature comforts, while nurses, abundantly provided with towels, socks, blankets, sponges, etc., kept every man clear and warm, however long the trip of stormy the weather. All the usual appliances and skill of a well-regulated Hospital were at hand."

In addition to the hospital cars, these trains included cars for cooking and dining and for use as sleeping quarters for medical staff assigned to accompany the wounded. The trains were clearly identified by a bight red smokestack, engine, and tender and by the markings "U.S. HOSPITAL TRAIN" in enormous red letters, and they carried three red lanterns at night. There is no record that enemy forces ever molested any hospital train.

Excerpted from: Civil War Medicine: Challenges and Triumphs by Alfred Jay Bollet, M.D.

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